A lot of the blogs and news sites have been covering the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. The basic facts are that a young black man was returning from the store, when a “neighborhood watch volunteer” named George Zimmerman thought he looked suspicious. He called 911, and was told to wait for the police. Instead, he decided to accost young Trayvon. He had a “carry permit” from the state of Florida, and was armed. In the resulting scuffle, he shot Trayvon Martin, killing him. He has not been charged, since Florida has a “Stand Your Ground” law, which gave people who thought they were being threatened the right to use force. Which is what Mr Zimmerman claims, that he was “acting in self defense.” Here’s something I haven’t seen discussed: What if Trayvon had also been licensed to carry and had been armed?
The Washington Post has a good blog up about this case, which looks at it from the young man’s perspective:
Trayvon Martin was 17 and looked younger. He was carrying iced tea and Skittles. He was unarmed. George Zimmerman must have been terrifying — larger, older, carrying a weapon. Instead, Zimmerman was, by his own account, terrified. He pursued, shot and killed Trayvon.
In other words, had Trayvon been armed as well, according to the same law he would have been perfectly justified in shooting George Zimmerman. Consider that he’s walking down a dark street returning from a store, which he had every right to do, when a man with a gun runs up to him. He doesn’t know the man, he has no idea of what he wants, but he knows he’s seeing a serious threat. This could have ended very badly for George Zimmerman instead of badly for Trayvon Martin.
This is why I often despair when I see yet another gun law being passed. The political equation by various gun rights activists seems to be “we can solve the problem with more guns,” and “well, let’s make it easier to shoot someone.” Over a year ago, I said:
I grew up around guns. They were part of the culture. Almost every adult I knew had them, and used them. But you know what? Not a single one of them would have dreamed of bringing a gun to church, to public meetings, to schools, or to the local bars. It just wasn’t done. You didn’t bring a loaded weapon into the house, either. It was all common sense to them. Guns were tools they used, dangerous, and to be taken seriously. They knew exactly what a bullet could do – they were combat veterans and hunters. They’d seen it, and didn’t have any illusions about them. That’s the ethic I grew up with, and what I still have.
I should also add that none of them felt the need to walk around continually armed. Years ago, I went through park ranger training. The job was to patrol state park campgrounds to enforce various rules and regulations. During the training, several people asked if we would be allowed to carry guns. The answer was an emphatic No! Absolutely not! Then the instructors (who were police officers) told us why we weren’t.
There were three big reasons we weren’t allowed to carry firearms on duty. First, and foremost, was that we weren’t trained in their use, and we wouldn’t be. The second reason was that carrying a gun automatically escalates the situation. The third reason was that they did not want us putting ourselves into serious situations without back-up. As we were told, “If you think it’s potentially dangerous enough that you would need a gun, get out of there and call for help.” As I read about the Travyon Martin case in Florida, and see examples of it elsewhere, I’m reminded of those reasons.
Everything I’m reading about this case tells me that those were lessons that the shooter didn’t know. Yes, I know what Florida’s requirements are for a permit, but that is not the same as proper training to use it – or just as importantly not use it – in a situation like this. Carrying a gun escalated the situation. People act differently when they’re carrying a gun. Not only do you behave differently (yes, I do know, I’ve carried weapons) but people react differently to you when you have one. Consider that Mr Zimmerman decided to confront Trayvon. He acted aggressively, when he shouldn’t have, and Trayon’s reactions reflected that. Finally, Zimmerman was told to wait for the police, but hey, he had a gun, so he didn’t. Yes, he was licensed to carry it, but rather than waiting for the police, he made a decision to confront a young man walking the streets. In other words, he put himself into a situation where this could have ended up very badly for him. Why? Well, he had a gun, “just in case.” Would he have made that decision if he hadn’t been carrying a gun? Unlikely.
Whether or not Zimmerman ever faces charges, he’s always going to be known as the man who gunned down an unarmed teenager who was doing nothing wrong. He substituted a gun for intelligence. The sad part? Incidents like this were predictable. People start carrying guns around, because they’re “afraid.”
Maybe the world is worse than it used to be. Certainly the nameless, faceless menace of the Rapist, the Home Invader, the Terrorist, the Child Molester is more terrible and present than it ever was. But even in the first of these categories, the statistics belie the image. Most people know their attackers. But the Faceless Menace is easier to fear. The Unknown is so much more frightening.
“I was afraid of him,” you say. “I was entitled to shoot. You never know what might have happened if I hadn’t.”
A “right” carries with it a responsibility. That’s my problem with these gun laws. They’re not “responsible.” They’re a fear reaction, and fear causes irrational actions. As I said earlier, I grew up around guns. Everyone knew what a gun could do, what it meant to carry one, and why it should be treated with the utmost respect. Because once you pull the trigger, you can’t call the bullet back. Add a law that allows you to “defend yourself” because you felt threatened, and sooner or later someone is going to shoot someone they shouldn’t. It’s happened before, it’s happened now, and yes, it’ll happen again.
There are many things being said about this case, and I agree with those that see a strong element of racism around this and how the police handled it. But it was possible because people have been told they should be afraid, gun advocates have been telling people that everyone should carry a pistol everywhere “to be safe,” and pushing for laws allowing those same people to use them when they think they’re threatened. Because of that, George Zimmerman thought he needed to carry a gun. He made a decision to put himself in a situation where he might use it, ignoring the emergency dispatcher’s instructions. The result is that a young man is dead who shouldn’t be. But that’s something the “gun rights” activists who push these laws never talk about when they’re pushing for them. The other thing they never think of? That it could be them who is the victim, and the same law will say that it’s excusable. After all, they had a gun, and it was … threatening.